Editor’s Note: Kevin Patrick Kelly’s “Towards A Millennial Revolution” is published every Monday OR Wednesday.
Jesters do oft prove prophets.
Those words were penned by William Shakespeare in “King Lear.”
The iconic playwright and master of the written word recognized that humor can delegitimize anything. This observation especially applies to America’s political system. Late night viewers can watch as comedians lampoon, ridicule candidates for higher office, and use their comedic soapboxes to warn about the decay of American democracy … one laugh at a time.
Lee Camp, a comedian and host of the RT America program “Redacted Tonight,” uses his program to not only mock the corporate and political forces that are transforming America into an oligarchy, but to remind his audience that they have a moral and civic obligation to peacefully protest against the forces that dare rob them of their future. Camp recently spoke to me about the role of a comedian as it relates to electoral politics, and to talk about the influence of comedic legends such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin.
Kevin Patrick Kelly: What do you see as the role of comedy in electoral politics?
Lee Camp: Well, I think comedy has been important in political thought for a long time because it did allow … You know, the old famous quote, “only the jester can speak the truth to the king,” I think, and you can go back to Shakespeare, and there is a lot of truth that comedians can get away with a lot of speech. Even in times where they didn’t allow that.
So, I think it has played a role for a long time, but nowadays it seems to have an increased more powerful role, in that I guess that people are not getting the real story from our mainstream media/corporate media, and so they are looking outside of that to other outlets. Some of those comedic. Some of those not comedic.
I think that people have been telling me and a list of other comedians that they are getting their news from them, and I think it has to do with the failure of the corporate media. It’s not really a failure, it’s a set design to prop up their candidate and their storyline and their view of reality. I think comedians have gotten pretty powerful in that sense and that we are the alternative view.
KPK: When I look at some comedians, they seem to have drifted into partisan politics. As a result, they are no longer critiquing the centers of power. What do you think? Do you think some comedians have become too partisan?
LC: Well, I think that — If you are on a network that is corporate run, one of the big corporations … you are expected to tow a line to some degree. You are seeing that with the comedians that are on those networks. That does not mean that Colbert, when he had the “Colbert Report,” didn’t push some buttons and that Jon Stewart did not ruffle some feathers.
To a large extent, they are not going to go after the heart of the problem. As Chris Hedges said, most of these shows on corporate networks are going to poke fun at the foibles of the leaders, but they are never going to get to the heart of the matter, to the real issue to the heart of our oligarchy. A major Princeton study proved that we are an oligarchy. Now, some of the ones you did list are not on networks funded by the same sponsors, like HBO. Still, some of these networks decide to pick comedians that are not going to cut too deep.
So, it’s not that necessarily that there are comedic minds out there that willing to go at the true part of the problem, but they are often not given a large platform. I think times are changing in that I had some success with my YouTube channel initially, and things like YouTube and Facebook have allowed outside thoughts to gain a foothold.
KPK: Still, when I look at prior comedians such as, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, and George Carlin, they were all critiquing political power. They were never telling their audiences to hold their nose and vote for the lesser of two evils. On your show, you encouraged your audience to vote for Jill Stein. I never hear a present day comedian encourage their audience to vote for the Green Party.
LC: With those comedians that you listed, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, they all took the route of getting famous — And this might not have been by plan, but they got famous with friendly comedy or comedy that did not bother the “powers that be” too much. Even Richard Pryor was clean in his early days, Lenny Bruce did impersonations, and George Carlin was clean. Carlin was known for the Hippy Dippy Weatherman.
Once they achieved that fame, they were able to start hitting harder and deeper. Then, the corporate entities would often take away those slots. George Carlin was not on the “Ed Sullivan Show” once he started saying “offensive things.” He found a second life on HBO which again is one of the few places that isn’t funded by sponsor advertising.
Lenny Bruce was chased by our own government essentially to his death for the things that he was saying. He was threatened with arrest, he was fighting lawsuit after lawsuit, it bankrupt him, clubs were afraid to have him on because the FBI and the cops would threaten to take away their liquor license. He ultimately overdosed, but he was driven to his death by our government. It is the perfect example of, you are allowed on the networks when you are clean, and then once you start hitting too hard at the heart of the problem, you are chased or kept at bay.
And in the example of Richard Pryor, he was able to continue being very successful and wealthy, but that was doing movies that were often not saying the same things as his standup. His standup was willing to hit much harder usually than his movies were.
[See also, The Smothers Brothers — ed.]
KPK: You made some points that I did not even consider. To be fair, you are correct, even comedians within the mainstream like Jon Stewart, did occasionally push back. Sometimes they offered amazing analyses of the corporate media by using comedy. What issues do you think comedians could inject into the mainstream using comedy?
LC: Well, I think you are getting at it, with each of these issues you’d have to ask, what is the true heart of the problem? It is very easy to make fun of Fox News or CNN saying something stupid, but when you look at the heart of the issue, it’s like … There are so many important things such as money in politics, such as the fact that of course jobs are going to disappear because of course technology is making nearly every job fall by the wayside.
Every job will be replaced by various kinds of technology. That shouldn’t mean that everyone should work themselves to death in order to keep up with all the jobs that are eliminated, but you never hear that conversation. You never hear the conversation of, oh now that we have replaced all the jobs with technology we can have an easier life as human beings. Instead, it is just, who is going to bring back the most jobs so that we can work ourselves to death.
That is just one example of the deeper issue that is never discussed or our weapons industrial complex. You will hear a mention every now and then on these shows, but not much. They are not going to say, we spend more on military than the next seven countries combined and it is such a powerful force that no one will dare cut back on the amount that we bomb or the amount that we sell bombs. It is such a hugely powerful force in our country, this weapons manufacturing and the business of war. You will never hear that talked about.
You will hear them say, I don’t think bombs should be dropped in this location or that location or I don’t like Obama’s drone bombing. Those are important things to say, but what is the heart of the matter? The heart of the matter is that this weapons industrial complex has a mind of its own, it is so massive, it will always keep us at war, and always keep us bombing for no reason.
END NOTES: Check out “Redacted Tonight” at the following link.
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